Tuesday 15th June 2021
Britain’s most disgraceful bus station has been banished to history as a brand new replacement opened in Merthyr Tydfil on Sunday after a two year construction project.
Funded by the Welsh Government at a cost of £12 million – not much more than a two platform railway station – give or take a few million – it will vastly improve facilities and conditions for passengers in the town and the adjacent South Wales valleys.
Here’s what it used to look like on the former Victoria Road site, as a nostalgic reminder of how truly awful it was.
These photos show the state I found it in on my last visit in July 2019 …
…. just as construction of the new bus station was getting underway.
I could go on (I’ve got many such depressing photos) … it was just so awful. But thankfully that’s all now in the past.
Full of expectation after browsing through my rogues gallery of photos, I travelled to Merthyr Tydfil yesterday to take a look at what is billed as Wales’ newest and “third busiest bus station” – presumably that’s after Swansea and Newport, now Cardiff’s not currently blessed with such a luxury until its replacement is finally completed.
Naturally at £12 million Merthyr Tydfil’s new bus station is a very green environmentally friendly structure having no gas or fossil fuel supplies. Heating and hot water are provided through green renewable sources, toilets are flushed by rainwater from a harvesting tank and there are facilities for charging electric vehicles – according to the PR blurb put out to celebrate the opening. It also tells us the bus station is already “in the running for a 2021 Constructing Excellence in Wales Sustainability Award”, so that’s all good. But how is it for bus passengers?
The new bus station is located in Swan Street which is marginally closer to the town’s railway station so inevitably there’s talk of “creating a new transport interchange hub facility and link-up with the South Wales Metro”. In their dreams.
There are stands for eighteen cycles in the open air alongside the new bus station so I suppose that’s a bit “hub” like.
But for me, a “transport interchange hub facility” means everything under one roof or adjacent or at least within sight of each other.
Not here. It’s about a four minute walk from the town’s minimalist one platform rail station to the new bus station.
And presumably the £12 million did stretch to direction signs which hopefully will be installed very soon, as I couldn’t find any on my visit yesterday, and it wasn’t immediately obvious which way to walk from the station.
At least the old bus station had a big sign at the pedestrian entrance, albeit a grotty one, whereas the new structure is currently anonymous.
Not least the pedestrian entrance towards the concourse area located down an alleyway from the adjacent St Tydfil shopping centre, ironically by New Look.
It’s certainly a new look.
However, approaching from either side, by the bus manoeuvring area, does give a more open and spacious impression.
The side views show a much more impressive looking building and with 14 drive in/reverse out departure stands and ten layover bays behind them (reverse in/drive out) ….
…. it boasts a very generous provision for the size of Merthyr Tydfil with a population of 60,000 although it also draws people in from the neighbouring valleys as well as its own valley.
I’m not sure about the straight yellow lines on the large glass panels though.
I initially thought they were hazard tape left on from the construction phase before I realised they’re part of the design.
Each departure bay has an automatic glass door which opens on to the bus area once a bus pulls on to the stand.
There are no timetables or departure listings on each stand (similar to Telford) but there is a small screen showing the next three departures above each door and there are a number of free standing information pods on the concourse which are shared between stands.
One pod displays a fixed printed timetable while the other is an electronic screen alternating between displaying a list of upcoming departures from all stands in time order and generic messages including an invitation to buy commercial advertising for display on the screen.
The static timetable displays seemed inconsistent with some routes displayed well away from their actual departure stand and it looked like many routes didn’t have timetables displayed at all.
I always find screens with changing images highly annoying as it inevitably switches from the useful bus information display to adverts or useless genetic messages just when you want the former.
There are other screens which also show the listing of upcoming departures and potentially adverts dotted around the concourse.
There are no seats by the individual departure stands but there is a rather nicely designed communal area in the centre of the concourse ….
…. bookended by two quality looking cafe bars …
…. and a liberal supply of wooden seats …
…. as well as some tables and chairs.
It all looks rather inviting and I noticed people sitting in the area keeping an eye on the stands and when a bus drew up wandering over to form a queue to board.
It seemed to be working well and offered a less rigid queuing system for each stand. However, you can’t see stands 10 to 14 from the seating area so the only option is to stand by those stands for those departures.
There are bench seats along the wall facing the departure area for the lower numbered stands, which is better and I wonder why something similar hasn’t been installed for the higher numbered stands too.
This is also where the all important public toilets are located.
Which cost 20p to use, although you can wait until someone emerges from inside (if anyone is inside) and pop in while the door is open. The communal gents is behind one door, the ladies another and there are two accessible toilets.
You obviously need a pocketful of loose change when in Wales to go to the toilet as it cost me 30p in Betws-y-Coed on Saturday (that’s six shillings to spend a penny) and 20p in Corwen, although I found Ebbw Vale’s toilets free to use later on yesterday. Following Network Rail’s policy of doing away with entrance charges to toilets in their stations, charges at bus stations seem an anachronism these days, especially in these Covid “wash your hands regularly” times.
Back to signage and there’s a poster near the bus station entrance by the high numbered departure stands showing which services depart from which stand – in stand number order – so you have to look through the list for your service which is an odd way to present the information when you think about it.
If you know your stand number you don’t need the poster. It also purported to show only Stagecoach departures, which are the vast majority, but not all.
And complicating matters further, different departure stands apply in early mornings, evenings and on Sundays to the daytime with only stands 12, 13 and 14 in use at these times. These three stands are outside the main concourse area presumably allowing that to be closed outside of daytime hours.
On either side of the central waiting area and cafes there seemed to be office space as well as on the first floor which looked as though it’s used by Stagecoach as a rest area for staff (spot the TV in the photo below).
I wasn’t surprised to find no provision for a Travel Shop or any information such as printed timetables and maps available. That seems to have gone completely out of fashion with operators like Stagecoach. Goodness knows how they think it’ll encourage new passengers. It’s a complete mystery to me.
I could have done with some help yesterday as my intended departure at 13:43 on route X4 to Ebbw Vale was conspicuous by being absent from the screens showing upcoming departures.
Unnervingly the screen above departure stand 8 – which the printed stand listing at the entrance had told me was the one I needed – only showed the next three departures for the two-hourly TrawsCymru route T4 to Brecon, with no mention of the X4.
I stood on my own by the departure stand but started to get worried by 13:48 with still no bus arriving.
I tried the Stagecoach app ‘next bus’ function but that didn’t seem to even know a new bus station had opened so couldn’t help.
An X4 appeared on the adjacent stand heading to Cardiff and the driver kindly reassured me the Ebbw Vale (and Abergavenny) bound bus would indeed depart from stand 8.
The bus arrived soon after that and suddenly I was surrounded by eight or nine more waiting passengers who’d all been enjoying the sociability of the seated communal waiting area and after the driver had got us all aboard she left the cab and told us she’d be back very soon.
After what seemed like forever waiting for her return on a very hot and well loaded bus she reappeared and we finally left at 13:59, sixteen minutes late, which was a bit annoying as it meant I’d miss my pre-booked fflecsi branded DRT bus in Ebbw Vale – another new DRT starting yesterday. But I’ll tell you all about that in the already promised riveting fflecsi episode coming later this week.
In the meantime I left Merthyr Tydfil’s new bus station impressed with the design and ambiance but a little disappointed at the information provision, especially being a visitor. But it’s certainly a million times better than the old dump.
Twelve million times better.
Good news about the bus station; however, the absence of a travel shop is a ridiculous but unsurprising feature. Playing Hunt-the-Webpage in order to discover what bus services are available in an area is frustrating and often fruitless: the requirement appears to be that people know the answer before they ask the question.
Not so long ago there was a Stagecoach Travel Shop in Merthyr (not, of course, in the bus station), and buses in south-east Wales used to carry copies of the rather good area booklets.
It is no surprise that passenger numbers are falling when too many operators seem to have little interest beyond those who have to use individual services, and no interest in publicising the network. How are new passengers to be encouraged to visit the new bus station?
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I remember going to Merthyr to interview the then municipal operator in 1987 as part of my PhD research on pricing stratey in the industry. The bus station was a dump then, and evidently didn’t improve subsequently!
Having once visited the (old) Merthyr bus station, I agree that it was a dump. And certainly the new facilities are a vast improvement – despite the lack of real-time information.
I was reminded of that old bus station last week when in Boston (Lincs, not US). Granted it’s a smaller town than Merthyr, but it has a bus station – which in my opinion is one of the worst in England. No bay indicators (except for painted place names with operator identities of which some are defunct), no toilets, no clock, no shelter to speak of, and no timetable information less than 2 years old – thus no mention of the new(ish) 57 to Spalding which I wanted to catch.
In short, the town of Boston should be ashamed of it.
I had missed the 57 at 17:50 and the slower B13 at 18:00 because of congestion in Lincoln on the diversion route which the IC5 bus from there had taken to avoid the closed bridge over the railway. Luckily there was an 18:50 departure on the 57 (even though a northbound driver was pretty sure that the 17:50 which had passed him on its way to Spalding was the last of the day because “it won’t be back into Skegness till after 9”). .
It would be interesting to hear of other nominations for “worst bus station”!
I went to Bristol bus station last summer and was a total mess – nowhere near enough space for everyone as there was hazard tape hung everywhere and my bus departed 3 bays down from where it was meant to. Overall though I think St Ives bus station is the worst if it can even be called that – no bus stops, buses heading towards lands end just have to have the passengers walk across the area the buses use to turn around
What are Stagecoach playing at?
How can they get the discretionary passengers who could make the difference to their profits, the last 2 or 3 %? When are local authorities going to wake up and insist on proper printed information for their bus stations and libraries? I shall try to avoid Stagecoach and Arriva until they both return to being a proper player in the industry Of my recent visits First in Weymouth Reading Buses and Go Ahead in Poole, Oxford, etc, are still printing timetable leaflets or booklets, Yet Stagecoach in Aldershot and Exeter and Arriva in Chatham and Guildford were good until Covid.
I think many councils aspire to dynamic stand allocation to reduce the number of stands required. This means that printed information needs to be in a central area, or lounge as they call it, with passengers strolling to the correct bay a minute before the bus departs.
Not convinced myself
Train companies tend to do the same, at termini. All right, an incoming train has to be cleaned and prepared – but why are the platform announcements and displays often so last-minute that people then have to rush to get on board. The automatic tickets gates don’t speed the flow either!
I’m not convinced about dynamic stand allocation either. Paignton’s basic but perfectly functional bus station is old-school, with each stand clearly listing the route and main calling points of each service departing from there. The only “dynamic” allocating happens at the end from where Torquay-bound services depart; with up to thirteen buses per hour on four routes using three stands, sometimes they have to slot in where they can.
As a Merthyr resident I use the bus services on a regular basis and many people I have spoken to all say that the old station was better located. I have to agree and the general consensus is the 12million could have been better spent on refurbishing the old station.